Day 1, Thursday 14th January. London, England
It was not a good omen when we awoke late, to a morning of patchy thick
fog, covering the southern counties. We said our goodbyes and left London
at 9am along roads packed with incoming rush hour traffic. We ran into dense
fog several times, delaying our progress to Newhaven so that we only had
time to fill up with our last English price fuel before boarding the ferry.
Awaking late, together with the fog saw us arrive eight minutes before the
ferries departure, just enough time to drive onto the front-loading ramp
as the crew were waiting to close the bow doors behind us. We hurriedly
left the car to be secured and went up to the lounge.
Our plan had been to stock up on enough duty free to last at least through
Europe, but as we sat in the lounge we realized we had left almost all our
money in the Land Rover, and once at sea below decks was off limits.
Adrenalin still pumping we stood drinking coffee, and watching from the
rear deck. I don't remember saying much as we looked back over the churning
water. I do remember sadness as the harbour; then the port of Newhaven disappeared,
and finally the channel mists swallowed the country of our births. At that
moment neither of us would have believed that we would not set foot on English
soil again for ten years.
I can't say I was excited. I was sad, scared, lonely, and probably most
of all confused. We even discussed staying on the ship for the return journey,
but after all we had said to everybody we couldn't face returning quite
so quickly. By the time we were mid channel we had decided to cut our trip
short and do as Cliff Richard had done in his recent popular movie, Summer
Holiday; and spend a couple of months sightseeing around Europe. Catch some
sun and then go home, it seemed an ideal compromise, we could have an adventure
and retain our self-respect.
The future settled: as much duty free as we could, purchased, and out of
English territorial waters we tried to enjoy the beginning of our adventure.
As soon as the ferry docked I picked up the pistol, plus a carton of bullets
from the purser and wandered around the ship preparing for disembarkation.
If we had actually thought our plans were ill prepared, we were about to
find out just how much. For as soon as we disembarked at Dieppe I did what
I believed was the right thing, and presented the pistol to the French Authorities.
Now I have to admit just how naive we were and point out that up to this
time as an Englishman I had always believed that when a person in authority
told me something it was correct. That this was wrong was a lesson I was
Years later, Christmas 2004, I passed through the channel tunnel, and the
French customs and immigration people were polite, efficient, and eager
to help; but in the local authorities saw no reason to make allowances
for visitors who did not speak French. My knowledge of the French language
was extremely poor but the expression on the immigration officer's face
needed no translation. I tried to explain that the man at the French embassy
had said as long as I made no attempt to conceal the weapon there would
be no problems. So for several minutes I was snapped at by an officer, in
a tirade of language that gave Margaret no opportunity to interpret for
me; or fully understood for herself. But a translation wasn't really necessary,
the frequent use of 'war' and 'guerrilla' were sufficient for me to understand
they viewed my reasons for bringing the pistol into their country in an
entirely different way.
Eventually Margaret told me that we had two options, we could arrange to
have the pistol sent to the border to be picked up on our exit; how this
was to be achieved wasn't made clear and if it had been, we realized immediately
that this would be the reaction each and every time we crossed a border.
The second option, that we send the pistol back to England was really our
But a gun is not the kind of thing you can dispose of that easily, especially
as I believed we would need 'protection' traveling across Asia. For a while
the fact that a 'foreigner' was literally ordering an Englishman to put
himself and wife in possible danger made me want to refuse, but if we were
only going to tour Europe, then go back home; I wouldn't need something
for defense anyway.
Margaret was held under open arrest for over two hours while I went back
onto the ferry and tried to convince the captain to allow the purser to
take the gun back to England. Eventually the purser agreed to return it.
I have often wondered just how much trouble the thing caused him as well.
At last greatly delayed, and more than a little subdued we drove out of
Dieppe and into the flat and virtually treeless countryside of France. The
weather was slightly improved as what had been fog on the other side of
the channel had thinned to a mist on this. I was soon more thankful that
the fog had dissipated than I would have imagined, as the novelty of driving
on the 'wrong' side of the road suddenly became a reality. For those who
have not had the experience of driving vehicles built for an opposite sided
highway system, it may seem not too much of a problem, and generally it
isn't, as long as you are prepared to sit in a line of traffic going straight
ahead. The problems rapidly surface when you need to change lanes. Then
you have to move the vehicle enough to see if the road is clear. This meant
putting the entire right side of the car up to, or over the dividing line.
The fact that I would have to do this was not a surprise, and considering
the problem before we left I had fixed a wing mirror facing forward, so
that I could get an indication of approaching traffic. The idea worked,
at least to a point, but in those first few days Margaret; sat in the passenger
seat, found herself facing cars and trucks on a number of occasions, and
she wasn't always too pleased.
In time my reactions improved, and I learned to drive blind and trust Margaret's
judgment when to move, which had its own problem in that she didn't have
a driving license, or the road experience necessary to get one.
Now the journey had properly started our first job was to fill our water
tanks. This simple act brought a lot of amusement to the owners of a small
café. Then we put a few killometres behind us and found a lay by,
where we could camp. Margaret made our first meal since setting out, while
I unpacked a lot of stuff from inside up onto the roof rack. Rather fed
up and cold we crawled dejectedly into the back for our first night sleeping
on the road; thinking that this was not a good way to start our, or any
Day 2, Friday 15th January, France
Other than a two-week honeymoon on the Mediterranean island of Ibiza neither
Margaret nor I had ever been out of England (excluding the Channel Islands,
which to all practical purposes are England) and so our first taste of France
was not as I had imagined.
On our holiday in Spain, English was spoken by almost everyone we met; and
even the Spanish shop assistants understood enough to give you whatever
you needed, but that wasn't the case in rural France. Here, before the days
of mass tourism we were literally aliens and it was up to us to fit into
the lives of strangers. It was a day where we felt isolated and alone, probably
due more to us facing the reality of what we had embarked on, than anything
We awoke and decided to 'get on the road' (a term we were to use a lot)
straightaway. The day was difficult, though sometimes amusing as tried to
buy coca-cola or trying to change money in a bank where for some reason
that I still haven't worked out, they assumed we were trying to pay our
In England I had promised my father that I would visit his fathers grave
in the Bauvais war cemetery. It was not particularly successful, and I was
never sure we had seen his actual grave, but I took photos and later told
my father we had.
We also visited our first French bar, and experienced our first communal
toilet. Trying to lean as close to the urinal as I could while French women
walked back and forth behind me is something I still smile about.
That afternoon we drove into Paris. It was a little terrifying. There was
the usual mass of traffic, as there had been in London, but now I was on
the wrong side of the road and couldn't read the road signs. I have no idea
where we went, other than we passed the Louvre and we saw the Eiffel Tower
down a side street, at quite a distance.
Somehow we got out of Paris as the light began to fade, presenting me with
the problem that my headlights pointed into the traffic other than onto
the kerb; add to that the fact that my headlights were clear glass white,
while the French drivers were yellow. We copped a lot of flashing lights
and undecipherable abuse.
We stopped in the dark at the first opportunity and ate a dinner that consisted
of sandwiches brought from London, while having a discussion on the high
cost of French groceries. But on the positive side Margaret's French was
Day 3 Saturday 16th January, Paris, France
We awoke around dawn to the noise of trucks revving, and thundering past,
finding that in the dark we had parked outside the gateway of the Paris
Not only was our choice of campsite poor, my sense of direction was worse,
as we found we were on the wrong side of the city. We tried the cross again,
and with the questionable help of the French police made our way through,
and around narrow back streets to eventually put Paris behind us.
On the road to the East of the city the snow was quite thick and that evening
we parked on the edge of a forest. Like children we played snowballs and
smoked our last English bought cigarettes. Being in foreign places didn't
seem so bad after all.
Day 4, Sunday 17th January, France
A sunny and crisp drive through the snow to Phalsbourg. At the edge of the
village is one of the first tanks to arrive during the liberation, and also
the first to be destroyed. Mounted on a plinth, it's marked as the 'Bourg-la-reine'.
Looking around the small township the plaque was a somber warning. I had
been born at the very end of World War two, and while in those post conflict
years I had grown up knowing that the occasional ruined buildings were destroyed
by bombs; such a time seemed remote, and hardly real. Even in my youth,
and with the threat of nuclear annihilation, war still seemed something
that happened somewhere else; the thing was that I now was, somewhere else.
We drove on stopping for brunch of porridge, toast and coffee by the side
of the road, and into Strasburg, well aware that we were fast running out
of petrol. But none of the garages we came upon would accept English currency.
We walked around the town square trying to find somewhere where we could
change traveler's cheques, but it was Sunday and unsurprisingly we couldn't
find anywhere open.
We had to continue onto the border at Kehl, and for some reason not noted
in the diary we changed travelers cheques into Franks on the French side
only to change these into Marks over the German border. Once we had, Margaret
found she had left her handbag in France and we had to exit and re-enter
a second time. At least we now had cash and filled the petrol tanks before
driving into the mountains.
Slightly disappointed with France, maybe we expected something different
from England but it wasn't really.
At last we felt we were on an adventure. The North of France was much like
England, but driving higher into the snow of Germany was totally new.
We arrived at a little village called Kniebis as the light failed. It was
very picturesque: deep in snow with a large ski jump. We parked up and had
dinner of tinned stewed steak and dumplings, then walked to our first Bier
keller, for our first taste of German beer. The place was decorated in character,
and a group of German boys pulled the tables together and while Heidi served,
they sang songs in true Teutonic style, we felt like extras in a movie.
Inebriated but quite happy we drifted off to sleep, though I had a slight
stomachache, and Margaret sore eyes; even so things were beginning to look
Day 5, Monday 18th January, Germany
Woke by the alarm at 7am to see icicles hanging off the roof inside the
Land Rover, so we went back to sleep. Woke again at 9am.
Short of petrol again on autobahn. Saw road signs for Dachau concentration
camp that made Margaret uneasy so sped on to Munich. Found bank open and
changed more money. Got lost in Munich and ended up being ripped off in
a café, paying over the odds for two cups of coffee. Made corned
beef sandwiches to last the day, thinking it too cold to get outside and
Pretty countryside but ran into fog on leaving autobahn. Stopped the night
in a lay by with toilets and a café. Had soup and rice pudding for
supper and decided as it's too cold, so we will cut the tour of Europe short
and head straight for Istanbul.
Day 6, Tuesday 19th January, German Austrian border
Still very cold, but we are getting used to frozen water in the tanks by
now. Washed cups and plates, and ourselves in the basins at the toilet,
thinking we had not had a good body wash since leaving London.
My thoughts on Germany were mixed. Munich was in many was as in France,
like England, but different, and the Germans seemed a little stand offish,
but out of the larger urban areas the people were friendly and the countryside
was bordering on fairytale, though maybe in high summer we would have had
a different impression.
Bought some cigars and bread before crossing into Austria. Petrol is cheaper
in Austria, and there are mountains all around. Posted letters home and
we drove until dark before finding a lay by near Loben; parked up close
to a shrine.
Found Automobile Association maps that had gone missing at the start of
the journey. This is our third night to bed with our clothes on.
Day 7, Wednesday 20th January. Austrian Yugoslav border
It the morning daylight we found out that it wasn't a shrine, instead another
sign for another public toilet. Stopped later in the day at a garage, and
found the toilets were filthy, thinking it strange how the unattended ones
Crossed the border, and the Iron curtain into Yugoslavia, passing coach
that was obviously from the direction we were heading. We were to discover
later that there was actually a bus that ran the route taking Australians
to Europe, and back
While Yugoslavia was a communist state; it was a relatively open one. In
fact travel agents in England were offering organized holidays on the Dalmation
coast: and before we had left we had even considered taking such a tour.
So while there was some trepidation penetrating what was part of the USSR,
we crossed the border more in curiosity, then in fear of the KGB.
Perception was different to reality as we soon found out by being told we
had to obtain petrol vouchers before we could buy fuel. While in England
not everyone had a car, and Margaret's family for one did not. Everyone
had the choice or opportunity to buy one. In Yugoslavia few had cars, and
accordingly most roads were very poor. A marked difference after the autobahns
we had been traveling on.
While there were military vehicles everywhere there was little domestic
traffic, other than horse and cart, so people continually stopped and stared
at us as we drove by. With the lack of domestic vehicles there was little
need for no pull over areas on Yugoslav roads, forcing us to stop that evening
besides a truck stop. All garages are designated INA, or just say petrol.
We filled the water tanks and went to bed surrounded by lorries of all types.
Day 8, Thursday 21st January, Yugoslavia
The roads are monotonous, and vary from just reasonable to very bad. Stopped
and took a hitchhiking Dutch boy and girls, who we suspect were smoking
pot in the back, to a garage.
On road to Belograd we were passed by a truck shedding wooden sticks for
several miles, one ended up through the radiator grill of another truck.
We were flagged down again by two more cars. The only common language was
French. I wanted to keep going and didn't want to tow the broken down vehicle,
but ended up doing it simply because we couldn't get the message through
that we wouldnt. A girl got in to direct us to a nearby village; Ruma, where
we left the broken down car at a garage, and were invited to the home of
the driver for a meal.
Before dinner we drove the girl to her home, a bed-sit, where she offered
us small glasses of Vodka 'rechia', before making us coffee in small china
When we drank politely she laughed, pointed and slurped loudly. It's expected
that you have to slurp the coffee or you get a mouthful of grounds; being
used to instant coffee back at home, this wasn't the first experience of
a long learning curve. Next we found that once finished you put the cup
upside down on the saucer to indicate you have had enough, apparently this
is even more important when drinking Vodka.
Went to the Yugoslav mans house, and parked the Land Rover in a drive beside
the cottage. He asked us to remove our shoes at the door: as we found is
the custom almost everywhere. Though he gave us a pair of slippers each,
at other times we went in socks.
Took our places at a table and were given large glasses of a steaming liquid
while everyone else had small ones. The Yugoslavs 'brod' (brother) told
me it was schnapps. I was offered a cigarette and when I refused and showed
him my pipe he ripped open the cigarette and put it into my pipe. Everybody
thought our cigarettes were very big. The Yugoslav girl gave us a lace doily,
which she had made herself.
I went to the toilet later with Donna the dog chasing me. Found it to be
a concrete slab with a small hole in the middle; not something I was used
to in England, but what we found was the norm in the east. Water was taken
from a well nearby.
Dinner started with soup, slurped well by everyone, including us. Then liver,
chips and paprika in tureens, but no fresh plate everyone uses the same
soup bowl. Large piles of bread and two machetes placed on table to be shared
with beer to finish, and it turned out to be a very nice meal. A young girl
who could speak English a little came with her parents to talk to us
Towards the end of the evening the drink took its toll and I went to bed
on a lounge in the front room, passing out almost straight away. Margaret
watched 'Dragnet' on the television with the family. It was in English with
Yugoslav sub titles, but the family thought American was completely different
to English, and consequently thought Margaret well educated as she could
understand American as a separate language. She didn't sleep too well as
it was quite noisy.
Day 9. Thursday 22nd January. Yugoslavia
Awoke to cock crowing; we both have hangovers. Washed on the verandah in
a big bowl with the young girl of the house pouring water for us while breakfast
was being made. Sat down to Vodka and coffee for a starter, then potatoes
in a tomato and onion sauce, with paprika and bread. Followed by lumps of
bacon with eggs. Finished with large cups of hot milk with sugar. We gave
some brochures to the young girl and said goodbye. They asked us to stop
for a holiday but we said no and gave them a tin of coffee. Everybody kissed
everybody and we left with the husband of the girl to direct us to the road
to Belgrade, where we headed for Nis.
It has started to get noticeably warmer, and the roads were much better.
We stopped just outside Nis after buying some very sweet sausage rolls and
are parked up in what we think is the local lovers lane.
Day 10, Friday 23rd January, Yugoslav, Bulgarian border
Our first car problem, a slow puncture on the rear near side. We had noticed
this particular wheel had been overheating (I was to find out later in Sydney
that the brakes had been binding, this also probably contributed to a need
to later replace the oil seal)
Met three girls at the border from the USA who were driving to Istanbul.
We were given a twenty-four hour visa, and had to exit the country before
it expired; not a entirely warm welcome, but the constant traveling is starting
to make us weary, and the sooner we can get somewhere warm to laze around
the better: but maybe it is also the fact that we are now really inside
the socialist block, Bulgaria is a full communist state.
We started finding out about time zones today as after parking just outside
Polividov and then going into Sophia we found our time 45 minutes slow.
Spent one hour in Sophia, and while that is a very short time to make any
sort of judgement we found it a dismal place. Classic old buildings: but
showing none of the more fanciful architecture of Western Europe. These
were purposeful and invariably a shade of Gray. As were the people enveloped
in Grays, Browns and Black, unlike the pop culture 'Sergeant Pepper's' generation
that was sweeping England. They seemed suspicious of us, less friendly,
and even more reluctant to strike up a conversation than even the French.
We did chat to one man though; who told us quite proudly that he owned a
The roads in Bulgaria are better than in Yugoslavia except in the smaller
towns and villages, where there are always cobbled.
Day 11 Saturday 24th January Bulgarian Turkey border
Set off in the snow, and then into the sun to arrive at the Turkish frontier.
This is the first time we have seen the sun on the journey, and it's the
warmest day. Customs were fascinated by my passport, declaring me as a 'director'.
(The passport authorities in England never queried the description) Many
people at the border were being thoughroughly searched. On a tower overlooking
us was a soldier with a machine gun, not something you saw in England of
the time; in fact the British police did not carry any firearms at all.
The roads are very good; bitumen surfaced, straight and with little traffic:
mostly buses, though the drivers seem to be quite mad.
Towns are getting more oriental with mosques and are full of people.
We drove on into the dark and towards Istanbul, having trouble with the
opposing traffics headlights. The Londra camp where we had planed to stay
was closed so we stopped at the BP Mocamp. Very different to previous places
where we have stopped, as there are all the facilities we could want. The
other campers don't seem to be too friendly but the locals are. Our first
night under canvas in the tent, and at last we can sit up in bed.